The best advice comes from those living it. With that in mind, K-12 Dive each month asks a group of superintendents, principals or other key administrators for their insights and best practices on the top challenges facing public schools.
To kick off 2023, this month we asked four superintendents and principals: “What are your New Year’s resolutions for your school or district?”
Editor’s Note: The following responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Superintendent, Meridian Community Unit School District #223 in Illinois
I often find myself not participating in the act of creating New Year’s resolutions because of the low success rate of this endeavor. To that end, why would anyone want to start the year off with setting a goal they will not accomplish and commencing the year by taking a proverbial ‘L’?
So, instead of thinking of a new, audacious goal for Meridian CUSD 223, I simply hope that we remember the tenets of the culture that we are (and have been) building in our district. For us, culture is akin to character in a human being. The culture of our district is who we are when nobody's looking. Our culture is made of literally hundreds of thousands of individual micro-decisions every single day.
So, I resolve on behalf of Meridian to provide focus and energy into these areas. I will provide the vision. I will provide support. I will provide celebrations upon success and accountability when we lose our way.
Collectively, I hope we can resolve to adopt the below behaviors and build a strong culture that will support innovation, excellence, and integrity. My sincere belief is that this will best serve not only our kids, but also our adults. I want Meridian to be a place where:
- Everyone tells the truth.
- Everyone enters situations with positive presuppositions about others.
- Leaders provide absolute clarity for their staff.
- Challenging times are met TOGETHER, not individually.
- Information is open and transparent — including data.
- Everyone leads.
- We are in constant pursuit of excellence and nobody accepts the status quo.
- Everyone holds themselves accountable so nobody else has to, but if you don’t — others are willing to do so.
I believe that if we continue to build this culture as our foundation, 2023 will be the best year yet for Meridian CUSD 223.
Principal, Wescosville Elementary School in Pennsylvania
This year our main focus at Wescosville Elementary School is recognizing and working to understand hidden stories when working with our students, families and peers. As a school, we have been embracing the lessons we gleaned from Thomas C. Murray’s book, “Personal and Authentic,” the past few years. This year we have dissected Chapter 3, specifically where he encourages the reader to intently listen and understand the hidden stories of those we work and learn alongside, to appropriately be able to respond. When we know better, we do better and we are dedicated to doing what is best for our entire school family.
Harnessing the inspiration of the amazing Zandra Jo Galvan, we have also chosen a lens of doing whatever it takes to assure that “ALL means ALL.” Our teachers are dedicated to making sure that ALL of our students feel seen, heard and represented. We assure this is happening by having regular emotional check-ins with both students and adults. We are placing a greater emphasis on understanding people’s emotional capacity and how they can use mindfulness and self advocacy to find balance in their worlds.
Lastly, we have made it our mission to tell our story so parents and community members feel included in what happens in our school each day. A dynamic group of 5th grade students, whom we fondly refer to as our WES Influencers, are starting to work with our teachers to help create trainings and social media content. This content is then shared with all of our stakeholders so they know who we are and how they can help us SOAR each and every day.
Superintendent, School District of University City in Missouri
New Year's resolution ... a task that we all embrace at the start of a new year. The ritual is about growth, progress, and, yes, hope. As I reflect on this question — "What are your New Year's resolutions for your school or district?" — now more than ever I am committed to creating the space for all children and adults to be well physically, mentally and academically.
During winter break, I and many students and staff attended the funeral of one of our high school students, allegedly due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
You see, what I am describing simply shouldn't happen. My student was just 15 years old when his life tragically ended. It is too much to comprehend. Our students and staff are shaken and working to make sense of this. Honestly, I'm struggling as well. Educators, what we do in our systems in partnership with students and families matters. Relationships and connections are paramount. In University City, social-emotional supports, mental health, and all that encompass our vision of Learning Reimagined are not just words that look good on paper. They are the essence of our journey to support all our students and their families.
Meeting all students' social-emotional needs should be a primary driver in our classrooms, cafeterias, hallways, school buses, and playgrounds. We must be willing to unflinchingly and relentlessly fight for every one of our students.
No matter where you fit within a school or a district, this is work we must all take on for our students. Our children cry out for us to give our best. They deserve no less.
Let's embrace each day as an opportunity to positively impact our students' lives. This is my new year's resolution.
Principal, Hunters Lane High School in Tennessee
The biggest resolution for the new year for my school is to regain the strength we lost from the pandemic. It is best explained by using the analogy of a broken leg.
2021 was the year we injured our leg, and we had virtual school and a totally changed environment. In 2022, we were rehabilitating the leg with braces and physical therapy as we navigated mandatory quarantines for exposure and isolation requirements and had to deal with mask mandates. In 2023, our leg is more back to normal, and while we are still mindful that we had a leg injury, we are able to strengthen it and get back to everything we were able to do before the injury.
Our focus is to promote high attendance rates so students can learn all they can and demonstrate high academic achievement to set them up for success in college and career. We see 2023 as a great opportunity to reenvision school success as one where technology is integrated, students are engaged, and multiple opportunities exist for students to demonstrate what they have learned.